One of the many things we love about being National Trust members is being able to visit centuries-old castles, mansions and manor houses with tales of kings and queens and murder and mystery etched into the very stone they’re made from.
To discover the legends and intrigue for yourself, take a look at these 13 National Trust castles that look like they’re straight out of a book of fairytales. Just remember that their histories and legends might read more like a horror story instead!
Must-See National Trust Castles
1. Dunster Castle
Dunster Castle can be found along the edge of Exmoor National Park and it’s one of our favourite National Trust castles.
There’s been a castle here since at least the Norman times and it’s been a family home for well over 600 years.
But two of its best features are the estate walks surrounding the castle (they’re so serene and tranquil!) and the gardens at the top of the castle, which offer sweeping panoramic views across the surrounding countryside and even out towards the Bristol Channel.
When we visited, they also had games of archery on offer within the castle grounds, which was a lot of fun and a wonderful surprise during our day out!
2. Penrhyn Castle
Right at the top of North Wales, near the country’s oldest city (Bangor) is Penrhyn Castle.
This fantasy castle from the 19th century is a fairytale feast for the eye. Towering turrets, perfectly arched windows and sweeping countryside views are what visiting Penrhyn is all about.
Penrhyn Castle also served as a filming location for a Game of Thrones prequel, which began filming in 2019. So keep an eye out for the princess-inspired turrets on your silver screen within the next few years (hopefully!)
Sadly, this is where the fairytale ends. Before the National Trust took ownership of Penrhyn Castle, it was owned by the wealthy Pennant family who also owned several sugar plantations in Jamaica. These were, unfortunately, worked by slaves at the time.
3. Corfe Castle
With over 1000 years worth of history, Corfe Castle in Dorset needs little in the way of an introduction.
It stands in ruins atop a hill offering breathtaking views across the Purbeck countryside and was once a royal palace and fortress.
But perhaps its biggest claim to fame is that it was partially demolished in 1646 by the Parliamentarians of the English Civil War.
Today, you can often expect to see war reenactments in the grounds and even the chance to try a spot of medieval archery – a hit with kids and big kids (I mean, adults!) alike.
4. Bodiam Castle
Recommended by Annabel from Smudged Postcard
Bodiam Castle is a particularly magnificent 14th-century castle on the border of East Sussex and Kent in southern England.
Enclosed by a moat and protected by an original portcullis, Bodiam is a brilliant day out. There are towers to climb for views over the surrounding countryside: you’ll see vineyards and oast houses on the hillsides.
Although the castle is a ruin, the National Trust has some useful information boards explaining the history of the castle and offering plenty of insight into how life might have been.
Built for the wealthy knight Edward Dallingridge, the castle acted as a powerful status symbol as well as a fortress to protect his family and guests.
Bodiam Castle is a great destination for families. There are activities arranged during the school holidays and a fun trail for kids to follow. Children will be horrified to learn about some of the jobs reserved for kids during the medieval period: cleaning out the rather primitive toilets sounded particularly unpleasant!
The best way to reach Bodiam Castle is by steam train. The Kent and East Sussex Railway operates a service from Tenterden to Bodiam.
There’s a café and outdoor eating area as well as a small shop. The walk around the exterior of the castle is really pleasant but there are also lovely walks in the surrounding countryside too.
5. Scotney Castle
Recommended by Chris from EnglandExplore
Scotney Castle in the Bewl valley, Kent, is the perfect day trip from London. In a way, it’s two destinations at once: castle ruins and a separate English country house.
The castle (or ‘Scotney Old Castle’) sits in the middle of a lake and dates from medieval times, probably the late 14th century. The best-preserved part is the Elizabethan wing added in the late 1500s.
The ruins and the lake sit in the middle of the gorgeous Scotney Gardens, which are worth a visit in themselves.
At the top of the gardens is the 19th-century manor house (or ‘Scotney New Castle’) built as a replacement residence to the Old Castle by the owners, the Hussey family. The Husseys were great hoarders and collectors, making a tour particularly interesting.
The castle, house, estate, and gardens are now owned and run by the National Trust.
Scotney Castle is near the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells which can be reached by car, if coming from London, via the A21 (junction 5 on the M25). Then follow directions to the village of Lamberton and from the castle. There are also regular train services to Tunbridge Wells with the castle then a short taxi ride away.
However you get there, Scotney Castle (or, rather, castles) is a lovely place to visit in a gorgeous part of the world.
6. Tattershall Castle
Recommended by Anna from Anna Sherchand – a solo female travel blog
One of the most beautiful National Trust castles is Tattershall Castle, which is located in the village of Tattershall, Lincolnshire. It’s roughly a 40-minute drive from Lincoln and a 40-minute drive to Skegness.
Tattershall is the finest surviving example of an English medieval castle built in an era of red bricks. I suggest you rent an audio guide so you get the information about what you’re looking at. There’s a wealth of history to be discovered as you walk around listening to the free audio tour.
In 1231, Robert De Tattershall founded Tattershall Castle. It was a large brick castle, which made it quite unusual as castles were mostly made of stone back then.
As mentioned above, Tattershall Castle is constructed in brick but it has five or six amazing levels. It’s a great experience walking up to this impressive castle and witnessing the magnificent views from it. Don’t forget your camera!
Visiting the nearby church is also recommended. If you’re around during Christmas, they’ll have a special event which is worth going to.
7. Dunstanburgh Castle
Recommended by Heather from Conversant Traveller
If you like windswept wild ruins with dramatic backdrops, you’ll love Dunstanburgh Castle on the coast of Northumberland.
This remote 14th-century castle is a Grade I listed building, which survived sieges and capture during the Wars of the Roses but was later abandoned to the elements, which makes it one of the most photogenic sights to visit in Northumberland today.
Strategically built as a stronghold surrounded by natural defensive elements, Dunstanburgh was even used as an observation post during the Second World War to help defend Northumberland from a possible German invasion.
Despite being a ruin, you can still visit the gatehouse and Lilburn Tower, which has incredible views across to Bamburgh Castle in the north.
To get to Dunstanburgh Castle, park in the nearby fishing village of Craster (famous for its kippers!) and walk along the gentle 1.3-mile coastal path up towards the keep.
Set on top of imposing sea cliffs, the views here out over the ocean and along the shore are far-reaching, and the beach down below is great for a picnic and a stroll to blow away the cobwebs.
The castle is jointly managed by the National Trust and English Heritage, so if you’re a member of either, you’ll get in for free.
8. Lindisfarne Castle
Recommended by Bridget from The Flashpacker
When is a castle not a castle? When it’s an Edwardian holiday home.
But take a closer look and you’ll soon discover that this National Trust property is not what it seems.
Lindisfarne Castle was built as a fort in the 16th century and was home to garrisons of soldiers on detachment from Berwick, 20 miles along the coast, for around 300 years.
At the turn of the 20th century, the fort was rediscovered by Edward Hudson, the editor of Country Life. Together with his friend, the renowned Arts & Crafts architect Edward Lutyens, he transformed the fort into the upscale holiday home that we see today.
Enjoy the view of the Northumberland coast from the castle and look for vestiges of the old fort once inside.
Don’t miss visiting the adjacent garden, designed by Gertrude Jekyll, if you’re visiting in the summer when it is a sea of colour.
Lindisfarne is a tidal island. The only way to get there is by a causeway, linking it to the mainland, which is submerged by the North Sea twice a day. To avoid getting stranded, make sure that you check the safe crossing times before you set out.
9. Wray Castle
Recommended by Demi from Around The World With Her
The Lake District is well known for some amazing sights and scenery. Visitors come here for many reasons, but one great attraction is Wray Castle.
Perched right on the edge of England’s biggest lake, Windermere, Wray Castle is a beautiful castle surrounded by stunning scenery.
The castle itself hasn’t long been open to the public and it’s steeped in history. It’s perhaps most well known for the summers that children’s author Beatrix Potter used to spend here. It has also been used as a youth hostel and offices in the past. You can go inside Wray Castle and learn more about the history of the building.
The place is particularly good for children with interactive activities. There’s a cafe, playground and a car park on-site.
There are also many walking trails in the area, so it’s great for a day out. In the summer months, it’s also connected to nearby Ambleside and Bowness by boat.
The grounds around the castle are full of flora and fauna, including a much-loved tree planted by William Wordsworth.
Wordsworth thought the castle was magnificent, although rumour has it when the castle was built by a man in 1840 for his wife, she took one look at it and refused to live in it!
The castle is built in a Gothic Revival style, with mock ruins in the grounds, turrets and slits for arrows.
10. Chirk Castle
Recommended by Bec from Wyld Family Travel
Visiting North Wales is amazing. The green rolling hills are everywhere, the natural beauty of them is stunning and normally only broken by the harsh mountains that hold slate, a natural resource Wales is known the world over for. It’s a stark contrast and one that’s amazing.
Another amazing thing Wales has are the castles; many are ruins but for one, Chirk Castle.
It sits proud and mighty on the slight hills it rests on. Once a fortress it was made into a family home and what a home it is.
As you drive into the car park, you can see it on the hill and the walk up through the forest is lovely.
Once you arrive by foot (there’s a small bus that will take people up who are unable to walk the whole way), you’ll walk through the front gates. The huge doors remind you what they would have protected on the inside once upon a time.
Inside the rooms, you can see what it would have been like to live in. From old-style furniture to tapestries, every room has something in it that will amaze you.
At times you will find some of the workers wandering the halls and rooms. You can ask them some questions about Chirk Castle, talk to them about the history of it and they can point out some of the more intricate pieces that you may miss.
One thing you must do is sit in the courtyard and have a snack or drink from the amazing kitchen. There is so much to choose from but I can think of no better place for scones, jam and cream!
11. Powis Castle
Recommended by Pauline from Beeloved City
Located in Welshpool, Powis Castle is one of the most unique National Trust castles you can find in the UK!
Perched on the top of a hill, it’s a great place to admire the beautiful views over the welsh countryside but that’s not all! It also features beautiful Italian-inspired gardens, a deer park and of course, the castle itself.
You can easily get there from Welshpool town centre by car (it takes five minutes) or by foot from the train station. The road is a bit steep but on a nice day, it’s a pretty pleasant walk.
When you get to the entrance, you can buy your ticket at the desk (or validate your National Trust membership card).
Head to the court first. You’ll find the stables, beautiful statues and the National Trust cafe. You’ll also probably see the resident peacocks there.
Once you step into the castle, you will discover a wonderfully well-preserved property. It was built in 1283 and given to the National Trust in 1952.
After that, head down to the gardens. It’s definitely the best part of the visit, especially when it’s sunny. You can walk under the arches and down to the vegetable garden and the orchard. There’s no shortage of plants and flowers to look at! The gardens are extremely well looked after. Every tree and bush is always perfectly cut!
In the lower park, you’ll also find a field. Families usually use this space to play football or volleyball. You can also have a picnic there! At the back, you’ll find a walking path that will take you into the woods and around the rest of the property.
Powis Castle is the main attraction in the area, but if you have a bit more time and are looking for things to do in Welshpool, make sure to walk along the canal. It’s beautiful!
Psst! Did you know you can also stay overnight within the grounds of Powis Castle?!
12. Castle Ward
Recommended by Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
Located on an 820-acre estate in County Down in Northern Ireland, Castle Ward is a varied National Trust attraction including a stately mansion from the 1800s, a tower house (1610) found in the farmyard, and the original ‘old Castle Ward and farm buildings’ built around 1590.
However, these days the estate is probably best known for its farm buildings in old Castle Ward, which was the setting for Winterfell Castle and Demesne in the Game of Thrones TV series, home to the King in the North.
While much of recent interest revolves around immersive tours of the HBO’s hit filming locations, the main highlight of a visit would otherwise be guided tours in the mansion house along with roaming through the connecting courtyards and gardens outside.
Castle Ward is fairly far-flung with the nearest village being Strangford, which connects a local ferry crossing of the nearby Ards Peninsula to Portaferry. Or it’s just seven miles out from the larger town of Downpatrick known as the burial site of Saint Patrick.
But there’s also the option of staying on-site with a connecting caravan park run by the National Trust, as well as their famous Castle Ward Glamping Pods.
13. Castle Drogo
And finally, Castle Drogo in Devon’s Dartmoor National Park is known to be the last castle ever to have been built in England.
But it wasn’t built for royalty!
Instead, it was built for the wealthy owner of Home and Colonial Stores, Julius Drewe and his family.
Castle Drogo is currently undergoing vast renovation works to help make it watertight (hence my lack of photo of the actual castle). But the 600-acre estate surrounding it is well worth an explore at any time of the year.
When I visited a few years ago, you could go up a viewing platform to see out across the countryside, which was beautiful and well worth seeing if you’re still allowed to!
National Trust Castles Map
Check out our map below to help you find your way to each of these fantastic National Trust castles.
Discover Even More National Trust Places
If you like these castles, take a look at our other blogs to discover even more National Trust places that are well worth visiting:
- 33 Best National Trust Places You’ll Love!
- National Trust Bucket List: Fancy A Challenge?
- National Trust Cotswolds: 10 Stunning Places To Visit
- National Trust Devon: 10 Incredible Places To Visit
- National Trust Dog Friendly Places (Listed By County)
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about these incredible National Trust castles! Which one(s) do you think you might like to visit first? And have we left any out? Let us know in the comments below!
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